Well. Where to start?
It’s fair to say that The Force Awakens was (we can say that now) the most anticipated film of all time, which can be supported by the extraordinary advance ticket sales, audience buzz, YouTube views and the sheer brand power that is Star Wars. With all that riding on one movie, you’d expect it to disappoint, and in a few ways it does. At the same time, it doesn’t. The question is, how does one balance those conflicting elements to form an opinion?
I’ll start by saying what this movie is – safe, yet at the same time some stuff isn’t. You will have heard from other reviews by now that there is a heavy familiarity within this movie, which J.J. Abrams has described as “history repeating itself”. I totally get where he’s coming from, but that isn’t well-presented enough in the movie (you can probably guess which elements from A New Hope are recycled here); I watched it with a strong sense of expectation because I knew exactly where the story was going, aside from a few bits and pieces, and because it’s not difficult to piece a rough plot outline together from the trailers.
Making history “repeat itself” isn’t an artistic choice – it’s to give the film, and the audience, a safety blanket, because that way the filmmakers know asses will be planted in seats. Stormtroopers! Rebels! A masked, black-clad bad guy! The Millennium Falcon! Another Death Star! It’s all stuff which is proven to work with us, so it’s employed to good use. Some elements are twisted a little better than others, which is refreshing, and then there are some blatant rip-offs.
When the plot is that derivative, it’s hard to fully enjoy the movie. Honestly, if it were not for these new characters, I wouldn’t (at least not as much).
Everyone is so well-cast in this film. Poe Dameron is one of the first new guys who we meet and he’s awesome. He’s funny and cocky, like an updated Han Solo (as well as being an ace pilot), but he’s also a caring team player. Oscar Isaac embodies the character completely and just from the first few minutes, you want more of this guy. There is one very glaring plot hole with his character, however as this is a spoiler-free review I won’t talk too much about that.
Finn is a little hard to pin down in terms of relation to the original characters – he’s pretty much entirely new, which is incredibly refreshing and cool. The word which has been bandied about is “everyman,” and I can see that. To me he represents the audience. Rarely do Star Wars characters express fear or nervousness because we’re supposed to look up to them as role models (except anyone on the Dark Side, of course). Finn spends pretty much all his time being terrified in the movie; he’s afraid of the First Order, of his identity, of piloting a ship, of aliens, of Kylo Ren – everything, and it delivers some neat comedic punches along the way. Remember that shot in the trailer where looks scared shitless of Kylo charging at him with his lightsaber? That’s the whole movie, and while he definitely does grow and change I think his fear is gonna be something which sticks with him throughout the entire time that we know him.
Rey is intended to be very similar to Luke; she lives on a desert planet and has a little taste for adventure, however she wants to stay rather than leave like Luke does. She’s also got a little bit of Leia in her, too; she’s resourceful, headstrong and badass. Our three leads take elements from the previous generation, yet at the same time they subvert some of their most important qualities (Rey is never quite as headstrong as Leia, for example). That’s exactly the right approach to take – mixing the old with the new, rather than taking the old and plastering shiny stuff all over it, which is what the plot does.
That’s why I’m so grateful for these characters. I love the rapport and brotherly bond that Finn and Poe have; I love the bickering but friendly relationship between Rey and Finn; I love how Rey is both determined and unsure; I love everything about them. I, and likely everyone else, went into this movie expecting to be blown away by the return of the original cast. In fact, the new cast blew them away.
That isn’t to say they aren’t very good; Harrison Ford fits back into Han Solo like a glove. A little awkward from time to time, but there’s a certain maturity which has befallen the character over the past thirty years. I definitely couldn’t imagine him doing half the stuff he does in this movie back in Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher plays a much more subdued Leia than the brash princess we had previously seen. She’s a war-weary general with a tough exterior, but we see her show her emotional side more than once. Some of their dialogue is a little clunky, but the chemistry between these two actors is still killer and it made me giddy to watch them on screen again.
Similarly, BB-8 completely upstaged the return of C-3PO and R2-D2, who really don’t have much to do. A lot of Threepio’s dialogue is fairly cheesy, even for his standards, and Artoo is barely in the movie. BB-8, as expected, creates a personality for himself within minutes and completely stole the audience’s hearts. He reminds me of Wall-E and/or a small, irritating puppy.
I have to say, I’m now a big Kylo Ren fan. You start out the movie being pretty terrified of him, but as it progresses – not to give anything away – you see that he’s actually a weak boy. It makes him all the more compelling; he wants to be Darth Vader, but he simply doesn’t possess the chops. Adam Driver puts in a killer performance and embodies this perfectly.
In a way, those earlier plot contrivances don’t impact the movie too much. It would have been better if they weren’t there, however J.J. Abrams’ masterful direction and character-building more than makes up for it. He injects it with undeniable fun that will make you want to go back again and again – I certainly do. More than anything, I’m excited to see the continued adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. I want to see how they grow and develop and what new worlds they discover, which is something I don’t think any of us were really expecting that much. Abrams and Kasdan’s biggest achievement with this movie is creating some new iconic heroes and villains, that will go on to inspire a whole new generation.
What The Force Awakens really is is a springboard. It throws a safety blanket over the audience to get us all into Star Wars again, which allows the franchise to progress with Rogue One and Episode VIII, and I think going to see more risks and more new stuff. Ideally that would have happened this time around, however I totally get why Lucasfilm did what they did. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan could have done a much better job of updating those old elements, and I bet it’ll be something which ticks fans off for years to come, but what they did manage to accomplish is what many considered to be impossible.
We have brand new, engaging, awesome heroes within an extremely fun, well-made, emotional and visually inspiring film. One thing is for sure: Star Wars is back!